WALTHAM, Mass. -- After Boston’s loss at Chicago last week, Celtics guard Terry Rozier acknowledged he may have been a bit star-struck by Bulls guard Dwyane Wade, who was a player he grew up idolizing.
Isaiah Thomas knows exactly how Rozier felt. Thomas was like that during his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings.
As it turned out, the player that Thomas grew up loving to watch play -- Kobe Bryant -- was Thomas’ first NBA opponent.
- Celtics praise Allen; Curry calls him 'greatest shooter ever'
- Ray Allen announces retirement, Rajon Rondo promptly insults him
And wouldn’t you know it, Thomas’ first defensive assignment that game was to guard Bryant who had a nine-inch height advantage and a decade-plus of experience on him.
“In training camp guys tried to back me down and they always turned the ball over,” Thomas said. “So Paul Westphal was like, ‘there’s no backing down Isaiah.’ When he subbed me in the game, everybody was looking like, ‘who’s guarding Kobe?’ Paul Westphal was like, ‘Isaiah got Kobe. And remember. Nobody’s backing you down.’ I’m like, ‘come on man! That’s’ my favorite player”
You can kind of see where this going, huh?
“So when he (Bryant) got in the game there were three straight plays he isolated me and backed me down,” Thomas recalled. “He scored on me three times and I’m just running back, smiling. That was the first time I smiled when somebody scored on me. But it was Kobe Bryant, my favorite player of all-time. It was surreal; I was like happy he scored on me.”
Added Thomas: “It was a cool ‘Welcome to the NBA’ story.”
When he faced Bryant the next time, Thomas said he was a different player.
“The next game, I tried to play my game. All that (first) game, I was trying to get Kobe’s attention, look in his eyes. He was like looking through me,” Thomas said.
So how did Thomas approach his second meeting with Bryant?
“Forget Kobe; he didn’t say hi to me or nothing so I didn’t look at him as my favorite player anymore,” Thomas said.
We’ll see if Rozier has a similar coming-of-age experience on Wednesday when he gets to face off against his childhood idol, Dwyane Wade, once again.